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The Intensive Care Unit (ICU) is a fast-paced clinical setting that houses some of the sickest patients in the world. Most, if not all, student nurses will have spent clinical time in the ICU by the time that they graduate and should have a good grasp on what the ICU has to offer. This is our experience on how to get a job in an ICU as a new grad!
The first step to getting a RN (registered nurse) job in the ICU as a new grad, is to finish nursing school!
Why should you work in the ICU? There are several reasons a new nurse would aspire to work in an ICU (intensive care unit).
- Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) school (or graduate school of some kind)
- Enjoy the fast-paced environment
- Desire intensive experience to build a “knowledge base”
- A closer 2:1, 1:1 patient nurse ratio
- Travel nursing options
What is the Intensive Care Unit (ICU)?
What is an ICU? The intensive care unit (ICU) is a nursing floor specializing in care of critically sick patients. Critical patients might be intubated on a ventilator or might have just had a severe ischemic stroke. But, regardless these patient populations require more attention to detail, more complex nursing care and advanced monitoring.
How I Got Hired in the ICU As a New Grad Nurse
As a new grad of nursing school I was personally looking for an ICU job because I knew I wanted to attend CRNA school. I was also interested in the ICU to get great baseline of experience if I wanted to do travel nursing.
As a new grad/student, I wasn’t quite sure what type of ICU I wanted, but I knew that I wanted something with surgical background that would have a lot of drips to titrate. I eventually narrowed it down to just a few specialties and I applied to several hospitals.
Some of the job positions I applied for were “1-2 experience needed”, some didn’t specify any experience requirements and some were specifically titled “new grads”. Eventually after several interviews (learn about the interview experience and what questions they asked) I choose to accept a position in a Surgical ICU. I was extremely grateful for the opportunities that I was given. From this experience I learned some helpful tips to help any new grad nurse get a job in the ICU.
How to Perfect Your Resume for an ICU Job
Submitting a winning resume is important for any job interview process. Resumes are no longer received on paper and are pretty much 100% online. Recruiters will shift through hundreds of these web-based applications to try and get a good idea of who they want to have a phone interview with. Your chance of getting a job in the ICU as a new grad can be increased by perfecting your resume.
WEB-CAM BASED INTERVIEWS
Some institutions are now using web-based interviews where you record yourself talking into a webcam. Check this article out for some help on web-based interviews!
You need to differentiate your resume from others if you want to be picked for the phone interview! Many recruiters will just see the first page of your resume and the basic accomplishments and achievements. Having some experiences that pop will be important for them to immediately put your resume into the “call” pile!
Get Previous Experience
Having experience on your resume as a new grad nurse is hard considering all you really will have is clinical experiences from class. However, there are some ways that you can differentiate yourself from other candidates.
- Apply for internships – internships are great experience for nursing students will be a great addition to your resume.
- Work as a Nurse Technician – working during school can be hard, but nurse tech jobs are typically PRN (per diem) positions and will work around your school schedule easily.
- Volunteer work – doing this type of work can be a great experience personally and to add to your resume.
- Ask for an ICU precepting/practicum assignment – before senior practicum contact whoever is in charge and ask them to assign you to an ICU. It never hurts to ask!
Recommendations are important for any job, especially nursing jobs. Having the backing from a clinical instructor or preceptor can be the difference between getting the job or not.
When applying for ICU jobs as a new grad you have to remember that there are plenty of other nurses out there with a lot more experience than you. You need to be differentiating yourself from them with strong recommendations that say that you are capable of caring for very sick patients.
Ask for recommendations from clinical instructors, practicum preceptors and anyone else that can tell the hiring manager that you are a strong candidate. Practicum (depending on how your senior practicum works) usually will be with you for at least 120 hours on the floors. If you completed your practicum on an ICU, that nurse will be one of your best tools to get hired as a new grad in an ICU!
Applying to ICU Jobs (How to Apply for an RN ICU Job)
Applying to the actual job is a huge part of the hiring process. Without applying your chance of getting hired is virtually zero. My best advice would be to apply to anything and everything!
Research hospitals around your area that are hiring ICU RN positions and apply to them. Some will say that they “require certain years of experience” or some might be specifically targeted at new grads, but I would apply to them all regardless.
With any that specifically require previous experience, I would make it clear that you will be graduating by “insert graduation date” and you have had experience working with critically ill patients in clinical and/or at your job.
You need to sell yourself and make the recruiters want to give you a phone call!
What is it Like Interviewing for an ICU Job as a New Grad?
Interview With HR
The interview process with a manager is usually one of the last steps before getting hired. I was first called by the Human Resources recruiter that conducted a casual phone interview.
Then the recruiter instructed me to complete a web-based interview. This interview consisted of some questions displayed on a computer screen while I would answer into my webcam. It was a different way of interview, but the questions were quite basic. You can find some typical HR interview questions here!
After the web-based interview, HR informed me that I would be moving on to the in-person interview with the floor manager.
Interview With The Floor Manager
The final step in the interview process was to have an in-person interview with the floor’s manager and a preceptor on the floor. The interview, for me, was mostly the manager asking questions about my past experience and why I wanted to be there.
She also asked if I had any intentions of going back to school. The hardest part of the interview was when she started asking situational questions.
Critical Care Situation
This is an example of a critical care situation that was presented for a Surgical ICU interview:
A patient had just recently had a laparoscopic appendectomy, and was brought from surgery into the PACU. The patient had begun to start diaphoresing profusely, complained of pain at the site, and had dropped in blood pressure (80s/50s). The patient assessment showed they were febrile, low BP (as mentioned before), warmth at the site, and low UO (urine output).
What would you do with this situation? What would you expect to give, what labs would you get and who would you call? Let us know down in the comments!
ICU Shadowing Experience
After the initial interview the manager set me off with one of the orienting preceptors on the floor. They called this portion a “shadow” experience, but basically it was just another interview. The preceptor asked a lot of questions, here are some examples.
- Why do you want to work in ICU?
- Do you think you can handle ICU?
- What makes you qualified to work in ICU as a new grad?
- What is your plan for the future?
Answer these type of questions with honesty and intelligence. You need whoever is in charge to want to hire you. You want them to know that you’re the perfect candidate for the position.
How do you stand out against other new grad nurses? When competing for a job in the ICU, you need to remember that they are looking for a specific candidate for that position. Ask your recruiter what they’re specifically looking for and be that person! If the job isn’t the right fit for you, you’ll find out quickly.
Eventually the recruiter contacted me and offered a job position. I was very excited to begin my journey as a new nurse. It was a difficult transition at first, but I learned a lot in the first few months!
First Day in the ICU as a New Grad Nurse
What was the first day in the ICU as a new nurse like? Well, not too bad! I had done my practicum in critical care and clinical at a Trauma 1 ICU so I had a bit of experience before starting.
On the first day I was shadowing one of the senior nurses. He just walked through the basics of the floor with me. In addition, I was able to extubate a patient with one of the respiratory therapists (which was an awesome experience). And, I was able to have a try at obtaining a blood culture.
In the end the first day wasn’t crazy, but it was an amazing learning experience. It is nothing to be nervous about.